Thursday, June 11, 2015

Musical snares

So, about this singing business.

It was never supposed to end with me standing in the on-deck circle on a June evening in Parkview Field, praying that when I opened my mouth, something would come out that wasn't "Gaaack." It was never supposed to end with my heart trying to climb up into my throat ("Hey, look, guys! An escape hatch!") as the words to the National Anthem popped up on the videoboard, and me too zoned in/terrified to even notice they were there.

Not that I needed them, thank God.

Here's your tale: Some years ago, I thought it would be a  decent story idea to go through the audition process to sing the National Anthem at a TinCaps game. But the auditions were always in March, and March is the busiest month of the year for a sportswriter working the gig full time in Fort Wayne.

So, the idea went up on the shelf, where it sat collecting dust like Woody that time when his arm got ripped. (See: "Toy Story 2").

I took it down again last fall when I retired after 28 years at the Journal Gazette and 38 as a sportswriter in Indiana, the better to work on a couple of books I'd had percolating and to do some freelancing. I pitched it to Connie Haas Zuber at Fort Wayne Monthly, who thought as much of it as I did. And that was how I wound up at the 'View in early March, singing the Star-Spangled Banner in front of four judges and interviewing some others waiting to do the same.

Here's what came out of that.

The other thing that came out of it was an email from PJ Carr of the TinCaps, which popped up in my inbox on March 10. It thanked me for trying out -- and, oh, by the way, you've been selected to sing the National Anthem at the TinCaps-Kane County game June 10.

Two immediate reactions.

1. You've got to be kidding.

2. Great, I've three whole months to obsess now.

It wasn't that I couldn't sing. Once, long ago, before man discovered fire, I was a serviceable tenor in the best high school concert choir in the state. The year I was a senior at New Haven High School, we performed a Bach double motet (i.e., eight parts instead of four) at state contest. We got a perfect score, which apparently never happens. I contributed to that -- or, probably more accurately, didn't screw it up.

But there was safety in numbers then. This would be different. This would just be ... me.

And that is definitely not, you know, me.

It may sound disingenuous, given the public nature of my profession, but I've never been a center stage kind of guy. I'm a writer, and writing, at bottom, is a solitary pursuit. If aptitude guided me to it, it also suited my soul. Putting myself out there in print always provided me with an inherent distance I found comforting.

Now, however, I was going to be Putting Myself Out There in the most Out There way possible. For ninety seconds, give or take, I was going to be standing squarely on center stage, or at least the on-deck circle ("Now batting for the TinCaps, an utterly terrified human being. Enjoy!").

The only antidote to that, it seemed to me, was to be as prepared as I could. So I sang the National Anthem every chance I got. In the car. In the house when no one was home. In the car again. In the car, again.

Then came last night. And here was Tara Cahill of the TinCaps leading me to a back locker room -- it's where they keep all the gear for the between-innings contests -- so I could, as she put it, "warm up."

Yeah, I thought. Like I haven't been doing that FOR THE LAST THREE MONTHS.  

Because here's the thing about the National Anthem: As anyone who's ever had to perform it can tell you, it's the queen bitch from hell of vocal numbers. The low notes are too low. The high notes are too high.  And it veers from one to the other like a drunk negotiating a sidewalk.

If you start out in the wrong key, you're dead. So I concentrated on starting out in my most comfortable key.

That's what I was zoned in on as I stood in the on-deck circle, drew in a breath and began.

Up in the pressbox, I knew, the official scorers were conducting their nightly contest, How Long Will The National Anthem Last. Everyone ventures a guess, and whoever comes closest wins ... oh, I don't know. The respect and admiration of his peers, maybe.

I figured there was an additional aspect to this night's rendition. Something along the lines of What Will Ben Do?, a multiple-choice quiz with three possible answers:

1. Forget the words.

2. Run.

3. Wet himself.

Well. Turns out the answer was "None of the above."

I opened my mouth, and music happened, sort of. Banners streamed. Bombs burst. Rockets glared redly. I got down to the low notes, and I climbed on top of the high notes and punched them in the face. And I didn't blow any lines.

It was ... serviceable.

People tell me I got a respectable round of applause, but, honestly, I don't remember. The whole thing's a blur now. I got out there, I opened my mouth and something other than "Gaaaack" came out. For which I am profoundly grateful.

A few hours later, I arrived home and checked my Twitter feed. And here was John Nolan  of the TinCaps suggesting (jokingly, I hope) that for my next act I should perform with the Bad Apple Dancers and write a column about that.

The answer to that one is easy.

Oh. Hell. No.




  1. I love this!!! Good for you, I wish I'd been there. What a fun "I tried it" piece.

  2. Annnnd b/c Wordpress refuses to use my actual name, HI BEN! It's Jaclyn, fellow former JG'er ((waves))